“Fist Fight” star Charlie Day sits in a booth in Old Town’s Bottled Blonde, oblivious to the college-age students gawking through the windows of a private meeting room.
Joined by Richie Keen, director of “Fist Fight” and Day’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Day is just as enthusiastic and animated as one would imagine. But he didn’t let on that he was reprising “Green Man” at the ASU basketball “Curtain of Distraction.” He’s a man of his word.
On that note, he promises that “Fist Fight” is a crowd pleaser — and it better be because the movie’s brawl scene between himself and Ice Cube was a “very unfun” eight-day task. In the movie that opened Friday, February 17, Ice Cube and Day star as high school teachers who use a fight to solve their differences. We’ll leave it at that.
“We had to deliver on the promise of the title,” Keen says. “I shot the hell out of it, and was blown away. Charlie and Ice Cube did the entire fight over and over again.”
Keen says — and Day agrees — that the camaraderie on the set was tangible.
“I’ve never been on a set where the actors didn’t go back to their trailers in between scenes,” Keen says. “Tracy Morgan, who plays a gym teacher, was telling stories. Dean and Dennis were hanging out. Everybody had a really fun time. So, when the cameras came on, they were having fun.”
Day explains that he and Ice Cube stepped out of their comfort zones for the movie. Day plays mild-mannered high school English teacher Andy Campbell, who is doing his best to keep his job amidst senior pranks, a dysfunctional administration and budget cuts. Meanwhile, his wife is expecting their second baby. Day’s character is challenged by Cube’s Ron Strickland, a hard-nosed teacher who is, shall we say, focused on the Civil War.
“He came out of his lane a little bit and really trusted me to try some things he hadn’t done before,” Keen adds. “Ice Cube isn’t a physical comedian, typically. But he was willing to go there.
“He told me early on that he wanted to make sure he was different in this than anything he had ever done. That opened so much.”
As for Day, he was pleased that he could play “the voice of reason.”
“I was the straight man surrounded by all of these crazy characters,” Day says. “I got to play a role more like my heroes, like Tom Hanks or Ben Stiller. Ben Stiller comedies start with him as a straight man, and then it’s fun to watch him unravel and become a maniac at the end of the movie.”
It was also enjoyable for him to watch Morgan return to work after suffering life-threatening injuries in a car crash.
“The role was written for a younger, white, athletic dude,” Keen says. “I just loved the idea of nobody knowing if Tracy was OK when we started the movie. He was so joyful to be back. It was so contagious.”
Day adds, “It was never wasted on me how lucky we were to not only have him in our movie, but to have him still alive. We weren’t ready to lose Tracy Morgan. He has so much more to give us in the world of comedy.”
The message of the movie is simple: The public school system needs help.
“Nobody knows if a billionaire is going to take care of our public school system,” Day says. “No matter what your current beliefs are, we all admit that we can do better with our public school system.
We made the movie well before we were in the throes of where we are now. We should always focus on educating our children.”
Neither Keen nor Day pretend to know how to fix the problem.
“But what was important to us was that Charlie and Ice Cube be teachers who care about teaching and are passionate about it in different ways,” Keen says.
“We wanted to be sure the two leads had enough and were handling the worst day in the history of their school in different ways. My hope was that at least you understand why someone might snap like Ice Cube does.”